KUALA LUMPUR: Do you consider yourself a memory whiz? Well, you just might have been outperformed by a nine-year-old.
Rithika Vallinacha Ramanathan has bagged a spot in the Malaysia Book of Records (MBR) for the “fastest time to arrange the periodic table by a child”. How fast, you ask? Just three minutes and 31 seconds!
Keep in mind that the periodic table has a total of 118 elements. This means Rithika memorised the sequence and locations of all 118 symbols on the periodic table, deftly navigating its nine rows and 18 columns.
Of course, the prodigious child didn’t achieve this overnight; it took months of dedicated preparation and perseverance, with obstacles to overcome along the way.
“For my first attempt, it actually took me 12 minutes,” Rithika confided in FMT Lifestyle recently. “But with my mother’s help, over about four months, I managed to arrange the elements in around five minutes.”
Rithika might sound nonchalant, but her mother, Chinthamani Narayanan, pointed out the true difficulty of the task, even revealing that at one point they were close to giving up.
“The world record is one minute 25 seconds, held by a child in the United States,” said Chinthamani, 36. As such, the MBR requirement was that Rithika had to finish the task in under five minutes to even be considered.
Even after a few months, the fastest time Rithika could manage was around six minutes. “She kept trying but couldn’t reach that benchmark, so we eventually decided to put it aside,” her mum added.
For Rithika’s father, Ramanathan Ravi, getting this far was an achievement in and of itself, and he told his daughter as much. “She should be proud regardless of whether she has a record or not,” he said.
Nevertheless, the following day, Rithika decided to give it another try – and, much to her parents’ astonishment, she finally pulled it off in under five minutes!
This was the point when they knew she had a clear shot of achieving the record. But how did the whole endeavour come about, anyway?
“Over the years, I’ve noticed that Rithika has an incredible photographic memory,” Chinthamani explained. “So I thought we had to do something with this talent of hers.”
Inspired by YouTube videos of other children successfully arranging the periodic table, she introduced the idea to her daughter, who happened to be on her break from homeschooling at the time.
And while Rithika hadn’t been aware of the periodic table a year ago, once she discovered what it was, she immediately sank her teeth into the challenge.
On her part, Chinthamani was fully prepared to sit with her, armed with the periodic table. “It’s funny, I’ve spent as much time looking at it as Rithika has, but to this day, I can’t arrange it myself,” she said with a laugh.
Still, despite Rithika’s natural talent for memorisation, such a significant task required a well-thought-out strategy. She thus utilised a mnemonic device, creating a “story” for each row of elements to remember its sequence.
“For example, for ‘helium’ and ‘hydrogen’ in the first row, they became ‘hi’ and ‘hello’,” Rithika shared.
On July 18, Rithika finally met with MBR representatives. Chinthamani was all nerves (“I think she was much calmer than I was!”), but she needn’t have worried: Rithika achieved her fastest time in just one attempt, surpassing all previous practice sessions at home!
Since then, Rithika and her family have been inundated with congratulatory messages from friends and relatives.
But, while Mum and Dad are naturally proud of their daughter, what is more important to them is that her passions are nurtured.
“If she’s going to develop something of her own interest and do it with her own flair, then, of course, all the support and encouragement will be there for her,” Ramanathan said.
As for her future ambitions, Rithika – who, unsurprisingly, loves science – was quick to respond: “I want to become a dentist just like my father.”
Given that this career path might require Rithika to encounter the periodic table again in the future, who knows? She just might break her own record then!